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Alaska Sen. Begich stalls promotion of Air Force officer over Eielson questions

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Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012 1:06 pm | Updated: 4:13 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - Frustrated by a lack of answers about the proposed move of an Eielson Air Force base squadron, Sen. Mark Begich has stalled the promotion of an Air Force lieutenant general until he gets more information.

The Alaska Democrat notified Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Senate leaders of the move on Thursday. He’s asked that the Senate Armed Services Committee halt the nomination process for Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, who is being considered for promotion to four-star general and as Commander of Pacific Air Forces.

The Air Force in February announced a plan to relocate Eielson’s F-16 fighter plane squadron to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson outside Anchorage. The move, part of a proposed realignment at 60 military installations around the U.S., would transfer roughly half of the 3,100 military and civilian jobs at Eielson.

The plan was greeted skeptically by Alaska’s congressional delegation, who questioned the strategic and economic implications. The Air Force projects the move will save $32 million over five years, but hasn’t provided data showing how they arrived at those figures.

Begich said he’s made numerous requests for information justifying the proposed F-16 move, but has received almost nothing in return from the Department of Defense. He hopes stalling Carlisle’s nomination is a way to get the Pentagon’s attention.

“I’ve honestly kind of had it,” he said. “I decided enough was enough.”

Begich said he knows and respects Carlisle and called him to explain his plans to halt the nomination. He said the move has nothing to do with his feelings about Carlisle, who once served as a commander at Elemendorf.

“I think he understood our concerns,” Begich said.

Any senator can place a hold on a nominee, which halts the process until the hold is lifted. Begich, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he’ll also place committee holds on any subsequent nominees for military leadership posts until he gets answers from the Department of Defense.

Begich said he wants to hear what the specific impact of the move will be on civilian personnel and contractors at Eielson; see an analysis justifying the move to achieve cost savings; and receive a task force report on relocating the squadron and its impacts on the community.

Begich hasn’t placed a hold on a nominee during his tenure in the senate, and acknowledged such a move is often controversial. But he said it may be the only way for the Department of Defense to take notice. Begich said he was contacted almost immediately by the Pentagon after requesting the hold, although no answers were provided.

Begich said he believes the information hasn’t been forthcoming because it doesn’t exist. He said the decision to move the F-16 squadron appears to be a rushed process, and that the Air Force should step back and take a new look at its plans.

“If there were savings, I think they’d produce that document very quickly,” he said. “I don’t think they did that analysis.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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